Mozzarella Lasagna

I may have mentioned this before, but I don’t like ricotta cheese. It is not appeasing to me. To me it’s dry cottage cheese with little flavor. I’m not a fan and I don’t understand why people like it.

As a result, I haven’t been a big fan of lasagna either. I was pleased to see that this recipe from my hometown cookbook, Little Italy Festival Town is anti ricotta.

After a light bask in my pleased feelings, I started to wonder. Since this recipe is from an Italian lady, does that mean ricotta in lasagna is not authentic to Italian recipes? After some quick searching, it appears that adding ricotta was an American thing to do.

All this time, I felt odd for not being a fan of ricotta in my lasagna. Maybe my Italian side was trying to tell me something.

What you’ll need

  • 1 pound of ground beef
  • 1 cup of chopped onion
  • 1 minced garlic clove
  • 2 cans of tomato paste
  • 2 cans of water
  • Mozzarella cheese
  • Parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper
  • 8 X 8 X 2-inch baking pan

The first step is boiling the lasagna by preparing 8 quarts of water, 1/4 cup of salt, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil.

Side note. I have never heard of boiling pasta with olive oil before, but I imagine with thicker pasta it will more likely absorb the oil and add to the taste.

Boil the pasta for 15 minutes and strain the water when done.

Next, heat a skillet with 3 tablespoons of olive oil and add the ground beef as well as the remaining ingredients. You will simmer this meat sauce for about 35 minutes. Add additional water as needed when it cooks down.

Once the pasta and sauce are ready, you can start layering it up by placing a layer of sauce on the bottom, followed by a layer of pasta, and then a 1/4 of a cup of Parmesan.

Continue this layering until all the pasta has been used and then top this with the sauce, followed by the Parmesan.

Bake this at 350 for 30 minutes. Once those minutes are up remove from oven and top with strips of mozzarella. Cover this with foil as soon as it covered in cheese and then set it aside for 20 minutes.

The final result is quite satisfying.

I’m always shocked how good simple recipes can be. It’s such a pleasant surprise. These days, everything is being made with bells and whistles. Sometimes that turns out well, but it’s so common place now that I forget simple can be good.

That being said, I do think it would be fun to layer this up with even more types of cheese, but if you want to keep it simple, it will turn out well.

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Amatriciana with Bucantini

My next recipe comes from a cooking class my family took together a few years back. It was a Christmas present for my family and it ranks as one of my favorite presents.

Not only did it involve good food, but it was a bonding experience with the whole family. I think we need to do it again. It’s way better than any item someone can give you. Plus not only is it entertaining, but you learn a skill while you’re being entertained.

The cooking instructors supplied Proseco while we cooked too, which I’m sure had nothing to do with all the fun we had.

My favorite memory of the experience was all of us taking turns making our own pasta by turning the crank on the pasta machine.

My brother was probably the most delighted by it. I’ll never forget his face

The cooking instructors planned out a multiple coarse meal with 3 different types of pasta dishes for us, as well as salad with dressing we made ourselves and dessert.

I’m not going to go over each course today and will just focus on one of those meals which was Amatriciana. Amatriciana is a pork based red sauce traditionally made with pork jowl, but this recipe is Americanized and uses a different area of the pig.

This is the same recipe we used that winter night a few years ago and was given to us at the end of our lesson and meal.

What you’ll need

  • 1/2 pound of pancetta or bacon cut into 1 inch slices
  • Olive oil
  • 2 large onions finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
  • 10 cloves of garlic, crushed or minced
  • 2 cans of 28oz tomatoes crushed
  • 2/3 cup of dry white wine
  • 4 tablespoons of parsley, chopped
  •  1 pound of bucantini pasta
  • 1 cup of Parmesan cheese grated

The first step is to cook the pancetta in a wide frying pan over medium heat until crisp and lightly browned. Once the meat is cooked, remove from the pan and drain the greasy fat out except for a 1/2 cup’s worth. This will be used to cook with the onions.

With the reserved grease, cook the onion and pepper flakes until the onions soften which should take around 6 minutes. Then add garlic, tomatoes with the liquid, wine, and parsley. Allow this mixture to boil for 10-15 minutes.

As the sauce cooks, prepare a pot to cook your pasta in. Most Italians and myself recommend to cook the pasta al dente and to follow the instructions on the packaging.

Once the pasta is cooked, add the pancetta back into the sauce and season with salt and pepper. You are now ready to serve, like so!

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This is a simple pasta dish that doesn’t land too far from the tree of spaghetti bolognese or meat sauce for those of you who aren’t in the Italian know how.

Pancetta is a crisper version of bacon and bucantini for the most part is a tube version of spaghetti. One could say that it’s for people who love spaghetti bolognese but want a little bit of a change in their pasta consumption.

I personally am a fan of both sauces, but I admittedly don’t care all that much for bucantini. It’s fine, it doesn’t taste bad. I mean it’s pasta. I’m just not into tube pastas and bucantini makes me feel like I’m eating overcooked soggy spaghetti.

The sauce is easy to make and definitely satisfying to the taste buds. I do reccomend you give this dish a try, especially if you’re in a spaghetti and meat sauce rut.

*In case you’re curious, we did not make our own bucantini pasta. I do remember making ravioli, but I can’t recall if we used boxed bucantini or if we made our own spaghetti for this dish. My memory is a little fuzzy there. I blame the proseco bubbles.

 

 

 

 

Eggplant Parm with Catch Me If You Can Cheese

My next recipe comes from Sicilian Cookery and you could say it is a variation of eggplant Parmesan with a substitute of a cheese called caciocavallo which is a native cheese of Southern Italy.

The quest to find caciocavallo was the hardest part of making this dish and finding it caused a bit of a hiatus for my cooking goals. My first attempt to buy this cheese was at a specialty cheese shop where they just happened to run out the previous day. They ordered it again, but by the time I got there it was sold out. I had no idea this cheese was so popular. I decided to go to Whole Foods after that and ended up empty handed, thankfully Bristol Farms had some. I must have been lucky that day, because I looked for it again out of curiosity after making this recipe and it was M.I.A. in the cheese section.

Hopefully you’ll have better luck with that than I did.

What you’ll need

  • 3 eggplants
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 4-5 ripe tomatoes
  • 4 oz or 1/4 pound of caciocavallo cheese
  • 2 oz or 1/2 cup of grated cheese
  • 4 or 5 basil leaves

The first step is to prepare the eggplants by cutting them lengthwise into sections as evenly as possible. Then you will cut slits into the fleshy part of the eggplant and soak in salted water for ten minutes.

I wanted to look up the physics as to why salting and soaking is necessary for eggplants and ended up finding this useful article from the LA Times. According to Russ Parsons, it only makes a difference to salt if you are frying. He also feels for there to be a true impact, the soaking should take place for at least 60 minutes.

I have to say, I think Russ is on to something, because when I’ve salted eggplant for only ten minutes, it didn’t do much at all.

Whatever you decide, once you’ve soaked the eggplant, you will pat dry and then allow it to cool. While it is cooling, you can prepare the tomato sauce that will eventually go on top of our eggplant concotion.

To make the sauce, the first step is to prepare the tomatoes by skinning and chopping them. If you don’t recall the proper way to do this, what you need to do is cut x’s into the top of the tomato and then boil them for about a minute. Throw those boiled tomatoes on some ice and then the skin should peel off.  After that, you cut and set aside.

The next step for the sauce is to fry two whole cloves of garlic in oil. Remove the cloves once they’ve been sufficiently fried. I love garlic and didn’t want to remove them, but leaving fried garlic in sauce can make the sauce bitter. If you want to keep the garlic anyway, I suggest mincing the garlic and lightly frying. My mother always told me the longer you let a garlic fry, the more sugar you have to add later to sweeten the bitterness.

Food is like people sometimes.

Once the garlic is ready, whether you keep or discard, the next step is to add those chopped tomatoes. Do so and cook for 5-10 minutes while stirring and sprinkling basil, salt, and pepper to taste.

As the sauce cooks, cut the garlic and caciocavallo into pieces that will fit in the slits you made for the eggplant pieces.

Once the slits are stuffed, sprinkle with some basil and then top them off with tomato sauce. As long as the sauce is cooked, of course.

The final touch will be to sprinkle with grated cheese and oil and bake for 30 minutes on the 350 setting of an oven.

Once your time is up, you’ll have a tasty alternative version to eggplant Parmesan.

My final result turned out well enough. I prefer Parmesan when it comes to eggplant. Caciocavallo is a bitter and harder cheese than Parmesan. I feel it doesn’t compliment the eggplant in a way that I like. I prefer the delicious gooey texture of melted Parmesan that pulls apart like string cheese.

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Mmmm, string cheese

Have I mentioned that I love cheese lately? It’s important to tell the people things you love that you love them everyday. The little things count in this troubled world and the comfort of cheese is getting me through these troubling times every day.

Back to this dish, though. It was an enjoyable experience, but it doesn’t beat Parmesan for me and it’s not worth the effort and hunt to use caciocavallo, in my opinion. If you’re adventurous, definitely try it out. Life is too short to not try new things.

 

Tunato, aka Pomodori con Tonno

I should be a movie executive. I  anthropomorphized food long before Seth Rogen’s Sausage Party and Tunato is far more epic sounding than Sharknado. Imagine it folks, a sequel of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, where the murderous tomatoes shred up some tuna with their giant teeth and smother people to death with it by spewing it out of their mouths. To death!!!

My writing is getting rusty. I am aware and I halfheartedly apologize.

Despite my bad writing, like Sharknado, Tunatos from The Italian Mama’s Kitchen should be an entertaining light snack for when you’re too lazy to make a meal of real subsistence.

What you’ll need

  • 4 large or 8 medium or 16 cherry tomatoes
  • 6 ounce can of solid white albacore tuna, drained
  • 1 red onion or 2 spring onions, finely chopped
  • 2-3 tablespoons of homemade mayo

Your first step will be to prepare the tomatoes. If you opted for large or medium sized tomatoes, slice off the tops, scoop out the insides, and discard the seeds. If you use cherry tomatoes, you could still do this, but I get the sense that stuffing a cherry tomato is a lot of effort with little pay off.

Like practically every relationship I’ve been in.

I recommend just slicing the cherry tomatoes in half if you opt for them.

All the tomatoes will need their tuna and the tuna will be mixed with onion, homemade mayo, and salt and pepper to your liking.

Homemade mayo will be homemade by you and  is simple to make. All you need to do so is listed below.

  • Yolk of 1 large egg
  • 1/3 cup of sunflower or vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon of white wine vinegar

You can probably guess that all these items will be combined together to make the mayo and you would be correct. The only major notes I have are to add the egg yolk first, than slowly add the oil and other ingredients while whisking vigourously.

When you’ve whisked to your heart’s content, you may whisk some salt as well. Salt is always to your liking. I personally put as little salt as possible in my food but everyone is different.

As I mentioned before, this mayo mixture will be added to the tuna mixture. When both mixtures combine, you get Captain Planet!

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He’s a hero

You don’t really get Captain Planet. I just wanted to post a picture of Don Cheadle as Captain Planet.

What you get instead is tuna stuffing for killer tomatoes. Killer as in tasty to eat.

Fill those tomatoes with the killer tuna and place the tomato tops on top. For cherry tomatoes, skip the filling step and combine everything together.

Not only will these killer tomatoes slay your tastebuds, but they are comfortable for consumption in a chill or relaxed room temperature state.

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Not a hero, but a real tomato

 

 

Rice and Peas or as Italians say, Risi e Bisi

Risi e Bisi makes me think of AC/DC. I think I’ll add Risi/Bisi to my list of band names that will most likely never come into actual fruition. You kind of need musical ability to be in a band after all. I have some. I played the saxophone in school and all, but my guitar skills are abysmal. I could be a lead singer maybe. That might be my ticket to my band name dream into reality.

I’ll keep this band name dream alive and never do anything to actually reach it so my dreams won’t be crushed brutally like Bernie Sanders. This is the world we live in.

One dream you can reach is this dish, which is from Cecilia Antonini and Little Italy Festival Town Cookbook.

Cecilia is another woman from my town that I have no information on sadly. I did find it interesting that she uses leeks for this recipe. I had assumed leeks were a French thing. I ended up talking to my mother about it and she said, “Oh yeah, Italians like leeks too. It just fell to the wayside as a known Italian ingredient in America.”

Then she went on a rant about Trump and basically how he’s going to make things not so great again. My mother’s father was first generation American and that part of the family  went through a lot of discrimination because they were Italian.

When you grow up hearing about discrimination of your family in the past, it tends to make you sensitive to those who face it in the present.

Sadly, a lot of people forget that most immigrants were scrutinized and hated even if they came from Europe and were white.

I don’t want to get into politics, though. It hardly ever leads to a healthy discussion. Everyone wants their side to be right and the other to be dumb and wrong.

I declare peas for peace, starting now.

What you’ll need

  • 1/2 cup of minced leek or onion
  • 1/4 cup of minced parsley
  • 1/4 cup of butter
  • 1 cup of rice
  • 1 qt. boiling water
  • 1 qt. buttered peas, cooked and drained
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup of grated Parmesan cheese

The first step is to prepare your qt of boiling water. Next, saute the leeks or onion. I used a leek. Saute them with the parsley until it is golden brown. Add the rice after that and stir until it also browns, evenly. Now you add the boiling water, one cup at a time. Stir this mixture until the water is absorbed and the rice is at an al dente state.

The final steps are to add the buttered peas along with the salt and pepper. Stir this with the rice and serve with grated cheese and melted butter.

This dish was interesting, but I didn’t like it that much. It wasn’t bad, just so-so. From what I remember of eating it, the leeks and peas were the strongest in taste. I didn’t really put butter on it, which I think might have turned this dish from ok to good.

Despite my blasé feelings, I would like to try this again, because I think it would make an excellent side dish for a fish or chicken dish. I could see it being an interesting base for risotto as well.

Till next time I suppose.

 

Balls of a Matriarch

Freud would probably have a lot to say about the fact that I’m writing about another meatball recipe. I wonder what though?

Maybe he would say that I secretly wish I was a dog so I could play fetch? Maybe he’d say I have ball envy? Nah….Freud overthinks things too much.

Making this recipe was a long time coming.

Why, you ask?

Well this particular recipe is from my grandmother! My grandmother was mostly Irish in ethnicity, but an American who grew up in the hills of Tennessee. When she was 18 she met my grandfather who was a first generation Italian-American from the same tiny town as me in Indiana.

When she married my grandfather, my great-grandmother taught her how to make one of her son’s favorite meals. Spaghetti and meatballs. That’s what an Italian mother-in-law did when she liked you. Of course, she didn’t reveal all her secrets. Italian mothers are competitive about their cooking. That’s what I’ve told anyway. You can’t have your son preferring his wife’s cooking over a mamma. That’s a big no-no.

Grandma still cooked a delectable meatball, though, especially for a girl from Tennessee.

The whole family loved her meatballs. I was the youngest of all my cousins and I remember sitting at her long family kitchen table, my head peeping out just above the ledge watching as everyone chowed down the meatballs.

Sadly, I was a notorious picky eater as a child and didn’t like Grandma’s meatballs. I loved her spaghetti and would slurp that up, but I can’t remember if I ever even tried them.

That’s a long way of saying, it was time to make this for myself, even though I’m sure it’s un-edible compared to Grandma’s.

Before I dish out the ingredients, I have to make a disclaimer that my sister wrote this recipe down when she was a kid. So, it’s not very accurate in some spots and I had to make guesses. I’ll have my mother read this and see if she has any insight.

What you’ll need for the meatballs

  • 3/4 beef, 1/4 pork  (I’m assuming the measurement is pounds)
  • 1 tablespoon of Parmesan Cheese
  • Crackers or Bread Crumbs (I eyeballed this, but I bet you could look up another recipe and figure it out)
  • 1 or 2 eggs (It’s all about the consistency folks!)
  • Milk (Again, eyeballed it, you just don’t want the mix to be too wet or dry)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 2 tablespoons of Parsley
  • Onion, finely chopped
  • Mint

For the sauce

  • Salt pork (No mention of how much, I’d say 1/4 lb)
  • 4 tablespoons of oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • Butter
  • 1/2 – 1 lb of hamburger meat
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic
  • 1/4 fresh parsley or 2 tablespoons of dry parsley
  • 1 can of whole tomatoes
  • 1 can of Hunt’s Tomato Paste with tomato bits (I think this is actually crushed tomatoes, because I couldn’t find “paste” with bits in it.)
  • 1 can of Contadina Tomato Paste
  • 1-3 tsp. salt
  • Pepper
  • 1/2 – 3/4 teaspoon of rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon of brown sugar
  • 1 bay leaf

Instructions for the meatballs weren’t included, but it’s not too difficult. You’re just going to add all the meatball ingredients together until they are a middle of the road consistency of wetness. Once you’ve found that, you just form them into balls as big or small as you desire and set aside.

The first advice from my grandma regarding the sauce is to use a stainless steel or aluminum pan with a thick bottom. I have to say that if I had had a pan like that, it would have helped things.

Do your best with the deepest pan you’ve got. That’s what I had to do.

The first step is to place enough oil to cover the bottom of your pan. Add the pork. When the pork is half cooked, add the onion and cook together until both are nearly brown. Then add the hamburger and mash it together with the pork. Cook this until also almost brown.

While this is happening, mince the garlic. Slide the meat to one side of the pan and then add the garlic to vegetarian side of the pan and cook until lightly browned.

Then she suggests to add butter, but only if it’s needed. I’m guessing if needed means if things start to overcook or stick.

Next add the parsley and the whole tomato, but not the juice. You’re going to add the juice later. Chop that up and then add the two pastes. This is when you add the juice! Finally add your seasonings and the balls. Stir and simmer until you’ve reached the level of thickness you prefer.

The process of making this wasn’t too difficult. My only big issue was that I did not have a deep enough pan for all those balls!

Get your mind out of the gutter, readers. I’m talking about pans and food. Sigh.

I had to use two pans to make this, which I wasn’t happy about because I think the whole point of cooking the balls with the sauce is that it affects the taste of the actual sauce.

Despite this conundrum, things turned out well. Grandma and Great-Grandma would have a lot of nagging advice and suggestions I’m sure. More than anything, though, I think they’d be pleased that I’m full-filling the matriarchal balls legacy.

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Meatballs, meat sauce, and pasta. It’s the Roman way.

 

Melanzane Alla Parmigiana aka Eggplant Parmesan

Here’s another Sicilian recipe from Sicilian Cookery. Eggplant Parmesan is one of my favorite Italian dishes, so I was excited to make this.

I do have to warn the dear readers that eggplant is a fussy one-eyed, one horned, flying purple people eater. Wait. That’s something else….

Ok, so maybe it doesn’t fly and eat people, but it is purple, you could say it has one horn, and trust me when I tell you that it can be a difficult vegetable to cook.

I was going to seguue a joke about eggplant emojis, but I just found out Prince died. It just doesn’t seem right to do now. I mean Prince is not an eggplant emoji, but when it comes to purple beings you can’t deny that he reigns them all.

What would Prince have to say about all of this? I wonder if he enjoyed eggplant? I have a feeling he did. I mean it’s his favorite color and based on that pancake skit from Chapelle Show I have a feeling the man liked to cook.

So, Prince, I dedicate this purple recipe to you.

Here’s what you need for your Prince Eggplant Parm

  • 5 eggplants
  • 2 pounds of tomatoes
  • 1 pound of onion
  • 6 oz of Primosale cheese
  • 1 cup of grated cheese
  • basil
  • salt and pepper
  • oil for frying

Eggplant is kind of princess and needs special treatment, so the first step is to give it a nice salt water spa bath for 30 minutes.

Drain, rinse, and pat your princess dry and then fry her in some hot oil.

If you are like me and was never taught how to fry food, then you might need some help here. Even if you were taught how to fry food, eggplant can be troublesome. Eggplant soaks up oil like a succubus and that makes monitoring the frying process extremely difficult.

Soaking the eggplant in salt water is supposed to prevent the mass soaking of the oil, but in my case I soaked and that purple succubus still managed to suck my oil dry.

The internet tells me that larger eggplants seem to be more likely to do this, so I can deduce that if you have a larger variety then extending the soak to an hour will reduce the effect.

If you find that during the frying process that it’s still greasy and oily, my best advice is to blot out the oil with a paper towel as much as possible.

The time it takes to fry eggplant can take up to ten minutes. Again the internet told me this. I enjoy this cookbook, because it is authentic Sicilian food, but it’s not the best teaching tool for cooking. They leave out a lot of details like how long to fry the eggplant.

Since it does take ten minutes to fry, feel free to start cooking your sauce. Again, the cookbook doesn’t give you too many details about how to do this. All it says is “make some tomato sauce with plenty of basil.”

Yeah. I know.

Thankfully I was taught how to make my own sauce. So when I read that, I knew what to do. I’m going to assume that my readers might not though, so here is how you do that.

The first step is to cut an x on the top of your tomatoes listed above. Boil those tomatoes until the skin starts to peel. Once that happens, remove from the heat and rinse with cold water or place on a bed of ice. Ice is more ideal by the way. When the tomatoes have cooled, peel them and then cut into cubes. Place the tomato chunks in a pan and then cook until it resembles a sauce.

Feel free to add your favorite spices to the sauce as well. I stuck with just the basil because of the cookbook, but I ended up adding oregano and garlic later.

When the eggplant is fried and the sauce is cooked, you will bake. Oil a pan of your choice and place a layer of eggplant on it. Cover that layer with sauce and a layer of cheese. Continue this layering until everything has been used up.

Drizzle the top layer with oil and then bake for 15 minutes.

The final result is a simple eggplant Parmesan recipe that you can use as a base and later add your own personal preferences to it.

I, for example, doctored up my leftovers by adding different spices to my sauce and eating it with a side of spaghetti.

My initial tasting of this did disappoint me. This was because I didn’t properly fry my eggplant. It was greasy, spongy, and oily.

My leftovers were much better than my initial tasting thankfully. I think this was mostly because when I re-heated the eggplant it somehow diminished the oily, spongy texture.  The tweeks I made to the sauce also helped.

Anyway, I’d love to make this again but I’d probably be lazy and buy a jar of sauce and use mozzarella for some layers to give it more of a gooey stringy cheese texture.

So, so good, that gooey stringy cheese taste.